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Learning from beautiful monsters: phylogenetic and morphogenetic implications of left-right asymmetry in ammonoid shells

  • Jattiot, Romain1
  • Fara, Emmanuel1
  • Brayard, Arnaud1
  • Urdy, Séverine2
  • Goudemand, Nicolas2
  • 1 Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté, Biogéosciences, UMR 6282, CNRS, 6 boulevard Gabriel, Dijon, 21000, France , Dijon (France)
  • 2 Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, Institut de Génomique Fonctionnelle de Lyon, Univ. Lyon, ENS de Lyon, CNRS, UMR 5242, 46 allée d’Italie, Lyon Cedex 07, F-69364, France , Lyon Cedex 07 (France)
Published Article
BMC Evolutionary Biology
Springer (Biomed Central Ltd.)
Publication Date
Nov 13, 2019
DOI: 10.1186/s12862-019-1538-5
Springer Nature


BackgroundMany pathologies that modify the shell geometry and ornamentation of ammonoids are known from the fossil record. Since they may reflect the developmental response of the organism to a perturbation (usually a sublethal injury), their study is essential for exploring the developmental mechanisms of these extinct animals. Ammonoid pathologies are also useful to assess the value of some morphological characters used in taxonomy, as well as to improve phylogenetic reconstructions and evolutionary scenarios.ResultsWe report on the discovery of an enigmatic pathological middle Toarcian (Lower Jurassic) ammonoid specimen from southern France, characterized by a pronounced left-right asymmetry in both ornamentation and suture lines. For each side independently, the taxonomic interpretations of ornamentation and suture lines are congruent, suggesting a Hildoceras semipolitum species assignment for the left side and a Brodieia primaria species assignment for the right side. The former exhibits a lateral groove whereas the second displays sinuous ribs. This specimen, together with the few analogous cases reported in the literature, lead us to erect a new forma-type pathology herein called “forma janusa” for specimens displaying a left-right asymmetry in the absence of any clear evidence of injury or parasitism, whereby the two sides match with the regular morphology of two distinct, known species.ConclusionsSince “forma janusa” specimens reflect the underlying developmental plasticity of the ammonoid taxa, we hypothesize that such specimens may also indicate unsuspected phylogenetic closeness between the two displayed taxa and may even reveal a direct ancestor-descendant relationship. This hypothesis is not, as yet, contradicted by the stratigraphical data at hand: in all studied cases the two distinct taxa correspond to contemporaneous or sub-contemporaneous taxa. More generally, the newly described specimen suggests that a hitherto unidentified developmental link may exist between sinuous ribs and lateral grooves. Overall, we recommend an integrative approach for revisiting aberrant individuals that illustrate the intricate links among shell morphogenesis, developmental plasticity and phylogeny.

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